SCIENCE: Probe heads for Saturn moon

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Europe and the United States aim to explore the largest moon on Saturn using a probe which will take off in October. The probe, named Huygens, will land on Titan in 2004 after a seven-year journey, and send back information about the moon's physical and chemical composition.

Named after the Dutch astronomer who discovered Titan in 1655, Huygens was built by a team of 13 European companies, led by Aerospatiale of France, together with Nasa. It weighs 300kg and will be launched aboard a US Titan IV Centaur rocket. It will then use the "slingshot" effect of the gravity of the Earth, then Venus and finally Jupiter to approach Saturn before making a parachute landing on Titan, whose chemistry and geology appears to have similarities to those of the Earth in its primitive stage.

Huygens will also carry thousands of messages sent in by Internet users, ranging from calls for galactic peace to invitations to share a plate of pasta.